The mysteries of Lake Oconee are about to be revealed to all. Questions about who the first inhabitants of the Oconee Valley were and other remains of old cotton mills and old plantation artifacts may lie buried beneath the lake’s cool water. These treasures need not stay buried for long. A Lake Oconee cruise will uncover more answers and give participants a chance to be a part of history May 19. Archaeologists have discovered 3,000 known sites underwater, and the cruise will allow participants to learn more about the community in which they live.
During the 1970s, University of Georgia archaeologists, with funding from Georgia Power and support from state and federal agencies, surveyed the Oconee valley area that would form Lake Oconee. The lake basin was filled in 1979 after the construction of Wallace Dam. Archaeologists identified more than 3,000 sites in the ’70s, but thoroughly investigated and excavated less than 30 of the most promising sites and removed the artifacts to the University of Georgia.
Larry Moore is chairman of the Board of Directors of The Historic Piedmont Scenic Byway Corporation.
“There is so much mystery and folklore attached to the area. We will go by the sites underwater. We will be giving a longer history of the area and we will have a booklet that will have more information. We will also cover Rock Hawk and the history behind the dam,” Moore said. “There were more than just Native American sites that were flooded. There is a very old plantation that was flooded. A mill community that was built in 1845 was like its own city. It had a church, homes, a cotton gin and other mills. In those days, the community was built around the mill.”
Many of the artifacts were preserved and are currently located at the University of Georgia and Georgia Power. Georgia Power financed much of the previous excavation before the land was flooded. The archeologists surveyed the area and took about eight years.
“They surveyed the sites and were able to cover 28 due to the time and money constraints. Depending on the size of the site, it can be very time consuming and expensive. The archeologists had to make a choice. If everyone had taken the time to do all 290 sites, the year 2050 would have been the time frame for the dam, and none of us would be here,” Moore said.
Artifacts from more than 12,000 years ago to 100 years ago were found during the previous excavation and lent at least a partial view of the various cultures during the lengthy period.
Georgia Power Lake Resources Manager Scott Hendricks and Moore will explore the archaeological sites and ancient cultures of Lake Oconee including prehistoric ceremonial sites, early historical plantations, as well as Rock Hawk, Wallace Dam and the Oconee Wildlife Management Area. A site map will be given out to follow the tour. A unique detailed related booklet will be available for a donation, and the booklet can be used to follow the tour information in detain later as well as for future additional archaeological reference for the area.
“The 50-page book will include everything discussed on the tour as well as charts that cover the four major archeological periods in this area. The periods include the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian period. The Mississippian period is when most of the Creeks lived. Before the Mississippian people, we aren’t sure who lived here,” Moore said.
The Rock Hawk Talk cruise will depart at 4 p.m. on May 19 for a two-hour trip from Plantation Marina, and attendees should arrive early at about 3:30 p.m. The tickets will support the Rock Hawk Effigy, Educational Trails and Park and tickets are $50 per person. Tickets will include hors d'oeuvres and one drink ticket; a cash bar is also available. Only 40 tickets will be sold. Tickets will be given on a first come, first serve basis. Moore plans on conducting the tour twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. For more information and to purchase tickets, contact the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce, Bonnie Simmons, at (706) 485-7701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.